Get serious, tennis: US Open needs to be canceled for player safety

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 22: Novak Djokovic of Serbia practices for the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 22, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 22: Novak Djokovic of Serbia practices for the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 22, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

The US Open has been confirmed for the end of August. If tennis is truly serious about keeping their players safe, they need to cancel the tournament.

There’s been a growing controversy in tennis regarding the future of the 2020 season, specifically at the sport’s biggest upcoming tournament: the US Open. As one of the biggest tournaments in the world, it attracts the best players from across the globe. In a normal situation, there’s nothing but benefits for players and fans. At this time, however, it’s a much different situation.

This year’s tournament has just been made official. From August 31st-September 13th, the Flushing Meadows, Queens-based Grand Slam will be played without fans. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the closest that tennis has gotten to playing a tournament of that caliber is a small, 8-player Adria Tour that’s been bouncing around Europe while under heavy criticism (although one of the Tour’s legs have already been canceled due to virus concerns).

The difference between Europe and the United States is the sheer volume of virus cases that have been reported in the United States. As of today (June 17th), 2.18 million cases have been reported in the last few months, with 384,000 of them coming from the country’s epicenter, New York. Alternatively, in all of Europe, there have been a total of 2.2 million cases (with 1.5 million coming from Russia, the UK, Spain, Italy, and Germany). To put this into perspective, Europe’s total population is 747.6 million, compared to the US’ 331 million, as of June 2020.

The largest problem is that the United States is still experiencing a major uptick in virus cases, while many countries in Europe have begun to return to normal after their virus cases have slowed down significantly. Playing a tennis tournament in the current most dangerous country in the world isn’t smart.

Even without fans, players and their coach will still be in danger of contracting the virus, especially if they need to travel by air and take transfer stops in different countries in order to even reach New York. For US-based players, specifically the lower-ranked players, it serves as much less of a concern given the close proximity to New York that many are in and the need to play professional tennis for an income.

For everyone one else (the large majority), it’s much too large of a risk to take if the game’s top players need to travel for days and then submit to extensive virus protection restrictions upon arrival.

Australian-based Nick Kyrgios, current World #40, has expressed his major concerns with the US Open for all international players. It’s incredibly dangerous for players not in the US to travel through many airports and fly in close proximity with other passengers. It greatly increases the chance for one person to contract the virus and why it’s not worth it for many international players.

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The top two ATP players in the world, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, have both expressed their major concerns, saying it’s not right for the tournament to continue until it is ‘completely safe’. Djokovic defended Nadal and voiced the many restrictions and protocols needed for players that would take away from the tournament as a whole.

"“We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week,” Djokovic said. “Also, we could bring one person to the club, which is really impossible. I mean, you need your coach, then a fitness trainer, then a physiotherapist.”"

WTA World #1 Ashleigh Barty has also expressed her concerns with the event taking place as scheduled.

"“I have concerns too,” Barty said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. I understand the tournaments are eager to run but keeping everyone safe has to be the priority.”"

Alternatively, US WTA player Danielle Collins has been the major voice pushing for the tournament to be held.

"“No one has been able to play sanctioned events or make money since February,” Collins said. “This is a massive opportunity for players to start making money again, and here we have the top player in the world saying only being able to bring one person will be too difficult because he won’t be able to bring his entourage.”"

What should be done? In any other scenario, such as the upcoming French Open at the end of September, the tournament should be held. If a few of the top players don’t feel the need to travel and play without fans, then they don’t need to. In Europe, a large majority of the game’s best will surely be ready and willing to play Paris’ premier event.

With the case of the US Open, however, it’s a much different scenario. The United States has the most virus cases out of any country in the world, and it’s only getting worse, especially in an epicenter like New York City. There should be no tournaments held in the US until it reaches the same improvements as Europe and can prove that it’s truly safe for all players to suit up and play.

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With the tournament confirmed for the end of August, there’s still a little time for the situation to improve enough for the decision to merit itself as a good one, but until then, it’s up to the players to see exactly how many of tennis’ best will be sitting out for safety.